It is not disputed that the democrats have faced their fair share of obstacles in recent history. Between Bill Clinton’s impeachment, Gore’s debatable loss in 2000, and Kerry’s ineffective campaign of 2004, times have been frustrating, to put it mildly, for the impassioned democrat.
Watching the democratic convention, it is clear that the tides are looking to turn. For one, the speakers all talked on something that has too oft been neglected by democrats; values. It seemed the party has gotten a clue. Like the stoic Gore of 2000, the democrats have too long relied on statistics and figures, responded fretfully to criticism, and have used other fallacious methods that tended to alienate more than win over voters.
So where did things go wrong? Many political analyst’s look back to 1968, a turbulent time in our history that culminated into mayhem at that year’s democratic convention. Many people (‘hippies’- as many pejoratively called them) were indignant that a democratic candidate who would not end the Vietnam War received the nomination, and riots ensued. Of course, the conventions are set up much more cautiously now, the candidate to be nominated well known beforehand. But the whole debacle served to alienate simpleton American from the democratic party, and the Republicans were then delighted to take on the role of the party that professed to posses true American values. Since then, with some exceptions, democrats have suffered more setbacks than their rivals and have lost more elections.
Indeed, the rhetorical arena of values is one in which Republicans are certified experts. How many times have you been swayed to the right because someone was championing family values? Simple phrases like ‘pro-life’ and ‘protect the sanctity of marriage’ are enough to disbar any alternative. Unfortunately, these phrases have made a permanent home to our vernacular. Too few democrats assert, for example, that they are in fact pro-life (no one is for abortion), and advocate better pre and post care natal programs, since the U.S. does have the second highest infant mortality rate in the modern world. How many babies lives would this save?
But by the looks of Obama’s campaign at the democratic convention, it appears, at least for now at this ever important time, the democrats have learned their harsh lesson. They are framing their speeches and general vocabulary in ways which more accurately assert their values and engender inclusion.
Of course, any attempt to reconceptualize vocabulary will be criticized as shrewd by some as a mere attempt to disguise the truth. But this type of reconceptualizing policy is very different from the superficial messaging work that has harassed democrats for years. Reconceptualizing policy means taking a policy’s goal that is currently understood in terms of one set of ideas and re-establishing it in the context of another, completely different set of ideas, that hold very different and often more accurate implications. Therefore, the political deliberation then conveys more honesty for the democrats, who are now thankful that the losing trend is reversing.
Obama’s campaign is effectively communicating who democrats are and the true values they represent. Redefining is the wrong word since he is merely reestablishing its original purpose; to represent the interests of the American public. Hope, as Obama’s campaign is fond of saying, now applies to the democratic party as much as it does to the nation, and a new era for the beleaguered party is in the works.